Sunday, December 4, 2011

I'm Better Than You


The U.S. is a meritocracy—the land of opportunity.
The rich, powerful, and famous are rich, powerful, and famous because they are better than you or me.

Paris Hilton is rich and famous based solely on merit. The same goes for former U.S. President George W. Bush, who is smarter than all other Republican challengers including John McCain and he is smarter than John Kerry. Or at least he works harder than them. That is why he achieved what he achieved. The rich, powerful, and famous work harder and are smarter than everybody else. That is why they are where they are and have what they have.

They certainly work longer, harder hours than the ordinary working-class citizen or working poor—like me. Like my parents.

My bilingual, computer programmer dad, and my multilingual resident-alien Belgian-implant mother worked harder than anyone I’ve ever known. They had 4 jobs between them. My father woke up at 3am every morning to do his paper route (I often tagged along) and then he worked minimum wage jobs during the day. My mother worked a minimum-wage job during the day and worked a janitorial job in the late evening after office workers had gone home for the day. I often went along, and so did my dad.

Even with all this, we had to get support from other means. I mean FoodShare, church support, and U.S. government welfare. My mother volunteered for a program called FoodShare that required a certain number of volunteer hours each week in exchange for cheaper food (not free, just cheaper). The local church leaders advised my parents that they had to exhaust all government welfare options before the church would assist at all. Of course, my parents complied. They wanted to feed their 3 children. They worked long, hard hours, but fell short each month. They needed a little extra help.

They didn’t spend extravagantly. We had a modest house in a poor neighborhood. We didn’t own a car. We didn’t have cable television. For part of my childhood, we had a black and white television so small that it makes iMacs look big. My parents didn’t smoke or drink or gamble. They didn’t waste money. All of their hard-earned money went to the basics: food and shelter. I didn’t even get new clothes or used clothes. I got hand-me-downs from a neighborhood family. I got what was left over after their 5 boys had worn them and were finished with them.

And my parents weren’t stupid either. My dad was a certified genius and held a Mensa membership. Still, all this intelligence was balanced with a social disability. He had trouble relating to people. He was brilliant, but challenged. Even though he technically qualified to collect social security disability, he chose to work, and he worked hard. He set a good example for me. Where was the American Dream for him?

As an adult, I have worked since I was 14 years old. I worked full-time and went to school part-time for 8 years to earn my BA in Organizational Management. My wife and I both worked for several years having 2 incomes to get by. When we had kids, rising daycare costs limited our options to one income with my wife staying home to raise the kids. She will be back in the workforce soon. Our youngest just turned 4 years old. When I was first married more than 10 years ago, I had to work 16-hour days to make ends meet. I worked full-time from 10pm until 7am every day before going to my almost-full-time job. Both positions were skilled trade positions. I worked as a CNA Certified Nurse Aide certified through the state of Colorado. Still it took lots of work to just make enough money to live. I didn’t have any luxuries or unnecessary expenses. Just a car to get to work. When I had kids, I had to ask for church help and government help during a time of tough trials when my wife almost died and the hospital bills nearly bankrupted us. And we had health insurance! Our insurance had exceptions and conditions. I had to pay several thousand dollars out of pocket before they would even begin paying for procedures. Then they fought every step of the way and tried not to pay for several life-saving operations for my wife. After the first 2 weeks of hospital stay, my wife had to be in and out of the hospital having surgeries for 6 months. She wasn’t allowed to lift our 3-month-old baby because she was restricted to only being able to lift 10 pounds. For a while, I felt like a single dad. And boy do I have respect for single parents. I worked hard every night until after 1am and then stayed up with the colicky baby for several hours.

Was I entitled to help from the government? No. Was I grateful for the help? Yes. How would my existence affect society if I didn’t have anyone to turn to? If I just became homeless and lost my job? What kind of investment was it by the church and government programs to keep my family off the streets and out of poverty? I am glad for the help. I was working full-time the entire time, but still made so little that I qualified for government assistance. I was technically in poverty. I needed a helping hand.

I have improved my earnings each year, but even after 20 years in the work force (almost 15 of which were full-time as an adult) I still barely make as much money as a starting school teacher. I have a few prospects and I’m up for a promotion at work. I hope they pan out. I am sure I will keep advancing slowly throughout my life. But where is my American Dream? Why do I have so little when I work so hard?

Millions of working poor are like my parents and like me. Why aren’t they rich, powerful, and famous? Millions of Americans are smarter than billionaires, but they are poor. Millions of Americans work harder than billionaires, but they live in poverty. Thousands of charismatic, hard-working, professionally-trained actors, musicians, and sports players are better than the ones with contracts and fame, but the well-trained, educated, smart ones are, for the most part, poor. Now, I agree that these last few examples of the entertainment industry are very subjective. But come on now, Vanilla Ice? I’m sure there are a hundred highly skilled but unknown rappers who would put Vanilla Ice to shame. Is it possible that the luck of being able to get your demo tape into the right hands might play a small role in whether or not you get famous as a musician?

Life is NOT fair. I don’t expect it to be. I don’t advocate taking money or things from some people to try to even things out or artificially make things more even. The U.S. meritocracy system is NOT fair. That is something I wish were different. If I run faster than the guy who didn’t train, I want to see me get the gold medal or first-place blue ribbon. However, I was not the fastest runner at my High School.

I was faster than 99.99% of my High School peers. I could run the mile in 5:18 and the 2-mile in 12:28. But I never won a race. Not one. Did I expect a ribbon? No. Did I expect a trophy? No. Did I complain or think that I deserved to win? No. But I will tell you, I was sure proud of my effort. I was proud of myself for running 10 miles a day in 105 degree weather. I was proud of myself for being able to hike so well that I once carried a person down the hill on my back, after hiking up the toughest hill in Phoenix. You know, the time when your quads are shredded and wobbly. Yeah, I was in that kind of shape. I could look at anyone in any of my classes and know that I was faster.

I had a friend who was so fast that he could run a 4:18 mile. He was one of the fastest runners in the state of Arizona. Did he qualify for a college scholarship? No. Then what chance did I have? None. Did I cry? Did I curse the world? No. I took out tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. That was the only way to go to college and I believe that education is key. So I worked hard for 8 years and EARNED my degree.

So why do I say the U.S. is not really a meritocracy? That it is not really the Land of Opportunity? Because the smart, the fast, the strong, the creative, the persistent, the hard workers do not get the riches, power, or fame. Why is that? Is it true that being born in a rich family or having parents or friends with good connections might play a role? I strongly believe that with hard work and intelligence Americans can IMPROVE their lot in life. They may move from lower middle class to middle class, but they will not get rich.

Even so, do I advocate taking money from the rich? No. Do I begrudge them their position in life? Actually, I don’t mind. They happened to get there or they worked their way there or a combination of the two. They deserve their position. I don’t give it to them. It is not mine to give. They are there regardless of my opinion. But don’t tell me they are better than me.

Don’t tell me they all worked hard to get there. Don’t tell me that poor people are lazy or don’t work hard. Don’t tell me that all poor people have to do to get rich is to work long, hard hours, or be smarter. There are plenty of smart people who are not rich. What kind of meritocracy ignores merit? What kind of meritocracy lets the fast and strong lose the race or contest, or lets the brilliant get beat out in the test? Can you tell me that not one person deserved to be at Yale instead of George W. Bush? Somebody didn’t get to go to Yale because he did. Where is the evidence of meritocracy in that? Did he really score higher on the SAT or ACT tests than his rivals? His “C” average speaks for itself. You can’t tell me that his father’s position had nothing to do with his being accepted over someone who was possibly more qualified. Yes, I said “more qualified.” Isn’t that the definition of meritocracy? The ones who work the hardest and deserve it most, get the prize?

Please don’t mistake this for me whining about not being further ahead in life. I will continue to progress. I work hard. I am intelligent, charismatic, persistent, kind, and I excel at communication. I doubt I’ll ever be rich, though. That’s not how it works. Did you know that the single biggest determining factor in a person’s socio-economic class is the parent’s socio-economic class? Almost all Americans end up either in the same class or the one above or below it. Almost no Americans jump from poor or working-class to rich or wealthy. Yes, it COULD happen, but how likely is it? Is it predicated upon hard work and persistence? No. Because if it were, I would already be rich and so would millions of other Americans.

I am not a douche-bag a$$hole like Adam Carolla, the millionaire, says about the 99% of Americans. I am not upset at the 1% who earned their living. I am not upset about the 1% who didn’t earn their wealth. I am upset with the Wall Street crooks. I am upset about the ones who broke the law, not just behaved unethically, but broke the law. I am upset about the too-big-too-fail banks who took our taxpayer money, but didn’t pay it all back (some didn’t even pay it back at all) and I’m upset at the banks who made and are making record profits and still not paying us back, you know, the taxpayers who bailed them out. At least the car companies we bailed out paid us back—with interest. We made money on that! The taxpayers made money for bailing out General Motors! 

I identify with Occupy Wall Street because my beef is mainly with Wall Street. I don’t hate or envy Bill Gates. I don’t wish I were Donald Trump or Herman Cain or Newt Gingrich. I wouldn’t trade places with them for all their money and fame. I prefer to work my way up. Even knowing that I may never be rich, I want to follow my own path, earn my own way. Just don’t tell me that the rich people who are less intelligent, less charismatic, and lazier than me deserve their riches more or that they are there based on merit and merit alone. Don’t call me lazy, stupid, or a douche-bag a$$hole because I am not as rich as Adam Carolla. And don’t tell me the rich, powerful, and famous are better than me, or anybody else in the bottom 99 percent.

I’m Raphael Workman and I am the quiet, hard-working 99 percent.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Temptation

Why is it that when I try so hard
to stay focused and do what is right,
I get more and more tempted
and try with all my might,
to not give in and not do wrong
but it just gets too tough,
no matter how hard I try
it never seems enough,
I wish that things were easy
but that's not always the case,
I'm not supposed to eat the fruit
but I just want a little taste,
I know that this is just a test
I don't know if I will pass,
I'm trying my very hardest
but I feel at the back of my class,
I hope that someday I will live
long enough to know,
I know that someday I will see
all this hard work show.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Leave Me Alone

(It seems strange that a 14-year-old would say something like, "leave me alone!" But, this was a poetic expression of how I felt at that time.)

I feel crowded
too many faces,
when I am scared
my mind races,
no-one will leave
leave me alone,
I have to stay here
why can't I go home,
I don't know why
they monitor my music
I don't see why
they won't let me choose it,

Leave me alone
and I'll do the same,
then when I am mad
I'll have no-one to blame,
but myself and my mind
work together as one,
when I write poetry
I get things done,
or just express my feelings
in a poetic form,
I need a real home
not just a dorm,

They probably try hard
to make me feel good,
I am not satisfied
maybe I should,
I do not know
maybe I am insane,
leave me alone
or it's you
I will blame.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Night

All is dark
no audible noise
but the listless breathing
of nine dreaming boys
I do not stir
or turn on a light
so as not to disturb
this blissful night
I fall sound asleep
then I travel afar
to worlds without numbers
to a place beyond stars
where there is no beginning
nor is there an end
There exists no enemies
yet there are many friends
Infinity plus one
is there such a place?
How do I arrive there
how often I taste
I feel so close
but so far away
because, here, sound asleep
in my bed I lay
I often wonder
for goodness sake
why I get so close
and then I awake.

Fork in the Road

Right or wrong
that is the question
Good or evil
which way do I go
How do I choose
amidst all the contention
Which is the best
How do I know

Awakening

He wakes late at night
covered in sweat
frightened to death
scared of the threat.
Anticipation of death
is a far greater fright
than death itself
late at night.

Thoughts

We race through your mind
during consciousness
While you're alert
we seldom rest
When you're asleep
we turn into dreams
We can be frightening
or pleasant, it seems
with us, you are capable
of a normal life
Without us, you would
live, or die, in strife
Most people have us
Most animals too
We are thoughts
What are you?

Light

light
is comfort
piercing the blackness




Nobody Knows

What is life?
What does it mean?
What is death?
How is it foreseen?
Why does it end?
Why does it begin?
What does it mean?
How do I fit in?
Where do we come from?
Where do we go?
What does it mean?
Nobody knows.

What?

What is hate
What is fear
What is love
What are tears
What is jealousy
What is shame
What are emotions
They are my name

Forget Me Not

Forget Me Not

Forget me not
when you depart
Forget me not
you're part of my heart
Forget me not
when you leave for good
Forget me not
I know others would
Forget me not
remember me true
and I'll remember
to remember you

Glory

Death, seems
grim and dreary
most people think
that it's painful and scary
but to some, to few
it's an opportunity
to go down with pride
and be looked upon highly
to be a hero
for the young and old
to be regarded
as fearless and bold
to live beyond death
is a far greater prize
than anything else
no matter the size
the way a hero dies
is a death without worry
the death of a true hero
is a death filled with glory

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Novel

I am going to work today. Then I have 2 days off. Then I work Friday. Then I have 9 days off for my 10 year wedding anniversary. During most of my vacation, I will visit Arizona, specifically the Superstition Mountains, to conduct further research into my novel. I finished a significant part of my story, the first 30 pages, but I have reached a point in the book where I must pay even closer attention to detail. I love authors like Dan Brown and Robert Ludlum whose books draw me in and make me feel like I am actually there. I am sure these men spent time in the places they wrote about and I intend to do the same thing in my books. I may even post some pictures of my trip, especially the scenic part during my research. Between my poems that I work on, I am also writing my book every day. I cannot wait to share it with you, but I must. Otherwise it will not be as fun.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Band

Band

The drums got the bass
And they keep the beat
The guitar adds to the song
And makes it sound sweet
The singer adds words
And gives the song meaning
The song reaches out to you
And makes you want to sing
The three together
Make it sound grand
When they all work together
The product is a band

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Thought Limitation

Thought Limitation (written in the 1990s)

Cogitation
Cerebration
Deliberation
Rumination
Meditation
Cessation

Saturday, July 23, 2011

I Love You Mom

I Love You Mom (from 1994)

Mom is there to love and care
And tuck you in at night
She pampers you when you are hurt
And makes you feel alright
She’s the one you mostly miss
And long to feel her gentle kiss
She prays for you and stays with you
When you have had a nightmare
No matter what the trouble is
Mom will always be there


What Good Would it do?

This was written in 1994 when I was 14 years old.

What Good Would it do?

What good would it do
if I ran away?
How would it help me
to this very day?
I know it would cause
more bad than good.
It would cause more grief
than anyone should
have to put up with
throughout their life.
Noone should have to
cope with the strife.
What good would it do
if I started to smoke?
What do I think?
Do I think it’s a joke?
It’s not really funny.
In fact not at all.
If I was a smoker
I would start to fall.
Fall as in
to go down hill.
Go downhill as in
lose all of my skill.
What good would it do
if I caused more grief?
How would it help
if I turned a new leaf?
How would it help
to be in someone else’s shoes.
How would it help?
What good would it do?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Cacophony of Constantly Coughing Kids

This piece was first published as a Facebook status update 4/28/11 when my wife and I and my two sons all had walking pneumonia. It is 100% true. I was actually eating cold cantaloupe while writing this.

Raphael is confiding in the crown-capping, corporation-kowtowing, cutlery-cupping, cockroach-crushing, crap-kicking, calf-castrating, cow-killing, caliper-calibrating, caravan-casting, car-chroming, coin-compensating, code-cracking, cuticle-clipping, corn-cultivating, coupon-cutting, creditcard-collecting, carol-crooning, calendar-checking, card-creasing, course-cramming, creature-collecting, collie-calling, cat-cuddling, concerned, capitalist country that he is…

…currently cornered on the couch consuming cold cantaloupe while being cajoled by a cacophony of constantly coughing kids carrying and catapulting cantankerous, colluding, clingy critters who are comfortably and contentedly camping in their craniums and carpooling cunningly through cartilage in their collarbones to their coccyges creating carnage that cannot be canceled unless a courageous captain cleverly conceives how to conclude the carnage through a careful campaign of codeine, consoling, comforting, and cold-presses that coincidentally is completely catastrophic for the conniving, crappy little con-artists….

…At least there’s no crying from the couple of cute, cuddly children sipping cool water out of colorful crazy, company-created contraptions: cups.  

Wake Up Late

Wake up late, groggy
Rush through a shower
Skip breakfast, no time
Slip on shoes without socks
Speed on the freeway
Don't swear at red lights
because they allow time
to get ready for work
Walk quickly through parking lot
trying to look professional
Get inside, check in
right on time

Breathe a sigh of relief
Make idle promise
never to stay up so late again

My earliest poetry - Nature

Nature

The sky so blue
The birds in the trees
The grass so green
The flowers, the bees
The mountains so high
The rivers, the streams
The ponds and the lakes
that glisten and gleam
The plants and the wildlife
The moon and the sun
They all fit together
and they become one,
Nature


Thursday, July 21, 2011

My earliest poetry - Haiku

I began writing poetry when I was 14 years old. Most of my early poetry was written in 1994. I excelled at rhyme and meter. I liked rules when it came to language. I also had just enough trouble in my life to inject real emotion at times. It was quite sophomoric, but hey, I wouldn’t be a sophomore for a few more years. I guess that means I was ahead of my time. I want to share my early work a little bit at a time. Today is Haiku day. Enjoy.


Haiku


Inevitably
Contrary to some belief
Everyone must leave


The powerful wolf
Stalks his prey with great caution
Then springs, chases, closes, kills


A wise man thinks much
He ponders about nature
And how man fits in



Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Running Into Trouble

A woman sprinted up a narrow trail in the Superstition Mountains of central Arizona. She leaped over large rocks as she ascended the tan-colored goliaths. Her heavy breathing filled the early morning air as her sandals pushed desert gravel.  A light brown lizard scurried from atop a rock and settled under a bush. She didn’t acknowledge the small creature; there was no time. The Arizona desert gets quite cold overnight—cold to reptiles. Cammi concentrated on the summit. It was out of site, but not out of mind. She had learned to focus on long runs, especially with a race coming up so soon. This was a speed workout, not a leisurely jog. She pushed herself harder, knowing that this was her last hill-workout before the 100-Mile race in Leadville, Colorado next week. The summit came into sight. She dug deep. She had been pushing herself hard the entire way, but she still had a little left. She sped up, practically sprinting the last 300 yards. Her heart pounded. Her lungs ached. She loved that feeling; and she embraced the fatigue. This is it, she thought. With one last surge she reached the top and began walking immediately. The mountaintop was flat and, apart from cacti every few feet, quite clear. True to its name, the top of Flat Iron Mountain looked like an upside down iron. The flat area, roughly the size of a football field, curved on both sides and came to a point. Each edge was a sheer drop hundreds of feet down. She was alone, the way she preferred it. She was always heading back down the mountain before others arrived. Arizona was relatively cooler before eight in the morning. She would rest a few more minutes before heading back down.  From the summit she could see several miles in every direction. Houses were now only a few miles away; they seemed to grow out of the desert like weeds. Soon, they would creep right up to the edge of the mountain, but for now, Cammi simply enjoyed the view. 


Just as she was turning away from the edge a glimpse of motion caught her eye. A yellow convertible sped into the parking lot and skidded to a stop at the trailhead followed closely by a blue SUV. The blue SUV stopped directly behind the yellow convertible boxing it in. A large man in a red shirt jumped out and began running up the trail with three men in pursuit. The fleeing man kept looking back at the pursuers and stumbling on the loose dirt. One of the menacing figures pointed an arm up the trail and the victim collapsed immediately. A second later she heard a thunder clap. They immediately began looking around to see if anyone on the mountain had heard the sound. Cammi ducked then crawled away from the cliff. 
*   *   *
With twists and turns this story is rarely what it seems on the surface. Set in the Arizona desert just outside Phoenix, this action adventure follows a world-class runner in her journey to exact revenge on her attackers.